[One of series written for UnitedRepublic.org in 2012. Original article.]
The entire reason for United Republic’s existence is made plain on its front page – we are here to Get Money Out of Politics. The primary source of money in politics is corporate lobbying at all levels of government – local, state and federal. Combating the corrupting influence of legalized corporate bribery (see Citizens United) is a daunting task – I’ve likened it to being a fireman facing a raging 20,000 acre fire. Greed and corruption certainly has the capacity to burn down the global economy.
So…where to start?
Begin by recognizing corporate lobbying activity for what it is – a sophisticated, defensive organism, evolved over time toward pro-active self-preservation – highly resistant to attack, requiring multi-pronged approaches to overwhelm defenses. But much like living organisms, even trans-national corporations have vulnerabilities.
Regardless of specific strategies, there are three ironclad rules that apply if we are to get money out of politics:
You must organize.
You must communicate.
You must be relentless.
Let me restate that:
We must organize.
We must communicate.
We must be relentless.
Because none of us working independently will get this done.
No firefighter can put out a 20,000 acre fire. No citizen can sway the votes of every congressman. No one lobbyist can pass a new law – unless he comes with, say, 20,000 Ben Franklins to help make the case. Either way, it’s a numbers game – votes and dollars. Dollars can buy votes. But this is still a democracy, and voters can overwhelm dollars when they are sufficiently energized and organized.
You must take action, but for your effort to yield results, you must coordinate your effort with others.
The good news is, with Net access at our disposal, we are in a better position to organize than ever before. The main hurdle to doing so is an old one – apathy, our own and that of others. Daily people will tell you we live in an oligarchy or plutocracy, that political parties and candidates are all the same, that voting doesn’t matter. That attitude is poison for change – treat it as such. As Robert A. Heinlein noted:
“Of course the game is rigged. Don’t let that stop you – if you don’t bet, you can’t win.”
United Republic is a platform for organizing. Use it. Not only online, but in your local real world.
“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.”
This oft-quoted recognition of reality is focused on people in power, but the people in power are only half of our situation. The other half are the voters who select the leadership. Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, had something relevant to say about that recently when asked what he would do if he were President:
“One objective reality is that our government doesn’t work, not because we have dysfunctional politicians, but because we have dysfunctional voters. As a scientist and educator, my goal, then, is not to become President and lead a dysfunctional electorate, but to enlighten the electorate so they might choose the right leaders in the first place.”
The point here is not to belittle voters, but to recognize that all efforts to reform power structures will fail if we keep electing leaders who obstruct and dismantle reforms. That’s not to say we should abandon reform, but we badly need a focus on education and enlightenment of the electorate.
This means changing the culture we live in. The single greatest influence in that direction over the past 30 years has been the Occupy movement, which raised awareness of gross inequities in income. Although the full potential of Occupy remains unrealized, it has already begun what we need to continue – inform, educate, enlighten. That’s how culture is changed. The impact of cultural change can be lasting.
“The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.”
– Oliver Wendell Holmes
Occupy’s initial tactics have been blunted, but the strategy of getting attention while bypassing traditional media remains essential. Here again, we’re looking at a numbers game. Traditional media, primarily the large television networks, count audiences in the millions. Online audiences are smaller and fragmented. How can we reach larger audiences and deliver our message – get money out of politics – in a way that resonates with people who discount any message that isn’t from someone they already know and trust?
We must earn trust. That’s precisely why United Republic’s credo includes a commitment to non-partisanship. Regardless of whether you view it as realistic or not, a non-partisan approach is the only way to get people communicating. Hyperpartisanship simply drives people back to their skirmish lines. Verbal grenades soon follow. Fragging each other doesn’t get us closer to our goal.
The fastest, easiest way to earn trust is to listen – even if you have to grit your teeth and bite your tongue to do it.
Before you respond, remember this – facts follow feelings.
Meaning: empathize first, acknowledge their concerns and fears. When you can, acknowledge that you share the same concerns and fears – from a different perspective. Use facts to explain why. If you overlook and dismiss how others feel, they sense this quickly and dismiss your facts. Trust blown, game over.
This approach requires us to get out of our comfort zones and engage with people we might not ordinarily deal with. And again, it’s a numbers game. You plant a thousand seeds through conversations. Some will take root and flourish, others won’t. That’s why you must…
Not relentless in the sense of an obsessive zombie in search of brains. This is about being relentless with yourself. Yes, you have many other obligations and responsibilities – school, family, work – and just the thought of evangelizing for the ideals you care about may be exhausting.
But let’s eat this cow one hamburger at a time. If you lack experience engaging with others, you’ll surely stumble and make mistakes. Ok – learning experience. Get over it, try again. And again. And again, with different people. When you get the hang of it, go back to the folks you messed up with and try again. You will make some new friends along the way, sometimes with people you never imagined you’d be friendly with.
Anytime you tackle something new, the early efforts are always hardest – that’s why it’s called a learning curve, and the curve goes UP. But eventually the art of persuasion becomes a skill like riding a bicycle – once you know how, you can can communicate your point of view effectively enough that you’re understood and respected. Practice and persistence pays.
All of us working together through United Republic is a wholesale operation for culture change. Individually we are the retail operation – we engage people one on one, changing minds, changing hearts, changing culture. But it only happens if we actually do it. So make a plan, make some mistakes, learn, and keep at it until we Get Money Out of Politics.